As promised, we sat down for our second homebrew vertical. I shared 44 ounces of one of my regular recipes, my dubbel, the Dye-Cast. I intentionally set aside several large bottles out of every batch I brew for this very purpose. Not only does a vertical let us understand how changes in the recipe affect the experience over time but also lets us assess any changes, hopefully improvements, in our technical craft.
We first opened a 22 ounce bomber from last year's batch. On first pour, we noticed it was cloudier than the bottle we would open next. It also had something a bit vinous in the aroma. I suspected that note may have been reduced in later beers due to changes we've made to our process. As it warmed, we noticed more of the yeast character coming through, including a bit of bitter that differs from the bitter you get off of hops. This recipe is a very lightly hopped beer, just enough to keep the finish nice and clean. I swirled the bottle and poured a little more for each of us at to get more of that yeast. It let us better compare the taste of the top and bottom of the bottle.
Head formation and retention was decent. With the beer before this one, I had a good deal of anxiety about charging and head in my first oatmeal stout. This beer didn't have any real problems in this regard.
I talked a bit more about the recipe and my thoughts. This beer started as a clone of North Coast Pranqster. That brewery doesn't really have a dubbel so the changes to push from a strong golden to this beer made a good deal of sense. John spoke about drinking the Dye-Cast side-by-side with North Coast's abbey, Brother Thelonious. I explained how it is a rare golden or tripple I enjoy anywhere near as much as a dubbel or an abbey. A brewer who does the heat stress of Belgian yeasts right, like Franklins or Odenata, will turn out a lighter ale that I'll enjoy, otherwise I find them to be lacking. Otherwise I really prefer what I found the Belgians to refer to as a black ale when I first visited Brussels. Speaking of, it looks like I'll be heading back to that wonderful city soon.
John very strongly agreed with the skill shown by the brewer at Franklins, across all their recipes but especially the Belgian inspired ones. We talked a bit about our first trips there, when working on a volunteer project nearby for Carl Malamud. For the uninitiated, we explained a bit how working with Belgian yeast can result in very recognizable flavor notes. We were able to do something along these lines with the beer that we made in Carl's honor, the Rogue Archivist.
We discussed my strongest reservations about this beer. One was a lighter body than I really wanted. The other was how strong the yeast funk can be, especially early on. Bottle conditioning has helped the latter but not so much the former. My experiments with multiple rest mashes were inspired by trying to fix the thinner middle palate experience with this beer.
We spoke for a bit about our last brew day, making the second batch of John's Green Grass and High Tides. This has been an amazing beer and we are both eager to see how our experiences have supported our ability to technically improve on it. John noted how smoothly the current batch, waiting to go into the bottle, went. We are clearly more comfortable with the benefit of experience, better able to track and hit our marks. I coupled that with a moment of humility, that no matter how good we get, there is always more to learn, more possible mistakes with which we may need to contend, no matter our skills.
I diverted from our tangent to talk about a beer, Flying Dog's Chinook Imperial IPA, that we ultimately drank off mic. Brewers may make beers like these, with single hop, single malt, or both, to help their peers and juniors experience and learn. John amplified that point, adding the appreciate for very distinctive house styles, like Oskar Blues' very recognizable handling of their grain bills. He tries to use that intentionality in his dealing with oenophiles, trying to cultivate respect and appreciate for how technical craft and the sheer number of variables inform beer vs. wine. I reminded him that beer has terroir like wine but agreed that the differences that arise from the hand of the brewer make it such an unending quest and joy for us both.
The differences in batch two were apparent immediately on first pour. This beer was clearer with not as tightly beaded a head. There was still a bit of a vinous note in the aroma but less so than its older sibling. Overall all the first taste was everything we liked about the previous year's effort but to a much greater degree. The color was richer, the missing body was really there, and the less desirable notes were much more muted.
I explained some of the changes, including the counter intuitive reduction of Carared, a crystal malt with a very distinctive red color. The grain bill was much larger, with less extract than we used the year prior. I explained how using multiple rests in the mash led to our discovery of the amazing sweetness of the Belgian pale malt. Again, John chalked up much of the improvement to a year's worth of experience and the improvement in our craft.
We talked about future plans, both for tasting three and four years of a beer in future verticals and maybe trying to do a vertical of John's beers. We also talked about the next beer in my rotation, the next in our shared rotation too. We have set a date and will be brewing my 80-shilling, the Pirate-in-Chief, in a few weeks. I explained my heart ache in my last attempt at this Scottish ale not turning out but my optimism in trying again, informed by trying a good number of 80-shillings by other brewers.
I swirled the 2012 and poured out the last for both of us. The beer remained clearer than the preceding taste despite the obvious addition of more sediment. The mouth feel took a pleasant turn towards the creamy. The uptick in yeast made John think of funky and sour beers. He suggested that if gueze may still be a bit much, saisons are similar enough while remaining more accessible. It will be interesting to see how this informs his recipe selection and creation over the next few batches.
At the risk of being immodest, and in response to John's suggestion that I enter this beer in a competition, I shared again my father-in-law's reaction to it. I set aside a bomber of every batch I make for him, related to the story I told of sharing beer with him in our very first episode. On tasting this beer, he asked when I would start making beer professionally. Easy enough to laugh off except he was insistent, that he was serious. He loved the beer so much, he really wanted to be able to buy it by the case. My response then and what I hold to is that perhaps when I am ready for a third career, I think it most likely will be commercial brewing. John agreed and noted his willingness to join me at that point. His wife told him recently that he is clearly happiest, despite the hard work involved, when brewing.
John mentioned a recent episode of Basic Brewing Radio where James talked to a mead maker, especially his reasons for going with mead rather than beer or wine. This led us to discussing braggots, as a hybrid between a mead and a beer, and the mead John made and recently shared. He had been thinking about oaking his mead, something I think would be better served with a less delicate mead. At most if he wanted to experiment, I suggested maybe splitting a small portion to try on oak. My concern is the floral mead that he made would be lost completely on oak as opposed to a buck wheat or tupelo that has a stronger flavor in itself. I offered my thoughts on Otto in Oak from Victory as an example of where oaking may have its limits.
This is not to discourage the experimentation that can lead to wonderful combinations. We reminisced on several good examples like Schlafly's barrel aged barley wine and the Balvenie rum cask Scotch. This kind of experimentation made us think of Sam Calagione, his thoughts on extreme brewing, and the lessons from his short lived TV show, Brewmasters. Talking about the failed batch of the 120 Minute IPA in many ways brought us full circle to both experimentation, failure, and even vertical tastings to keep feeding back into our tastes and our craft. Our final thoughts gravitated around consistency and variation, what going into the 2013 batch of this beer I want to work on.
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